City green-lights ‘Brutalist’ townhouses in Stuyvesant Heights Historic District

Current rendering of Lewis Avenue facade.
Rendering by NV Design Architecture

After being forced to return to the drawing board late last year, a proposal to construct four modern-looking townhouses in a vacant lot in Bedford-Stuyvesant was approved with modifications by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Feb. 9.

Located at 39 Chauncey St., at the corner of Lewis Avenue in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, the site was formerly home to two structures that were demolished — the first in 1995 and the second in 2002 –following emergency declarations of unsafe conditions.

When the project was first in front of the LPC in December 2020, the commissioners had issues with the color of the brick and the lack of definition between each of the four townhouses. They asked the applicants to rethink their proposal and come back at a later date.

The empty lot.Google

NV Design Architecture is behind the look of the townhouses. The owner is listed as Two Madison LLC, which purchased the vacant lot for $1.05 million in 2019.

Some of those issues have been addressed in the new proposal, which changes the color of the brick from yellow to red. But commissioners felt that other concerns, such as the differentiation between the four townhouses, needed more work. They unanimously voted to approve the project with the condition that the applicant work with the LPC staff on how to further differentiate the buildings through different brick colors, brick types and pigment of mortars, as well as look at different color options for the mansard roofs and bulkheads.

While the question of contextuality was addressed, the commissioners did not have an issue with the modern design, which Commissioner Michael Goldblum said was close to a “1970s brutalist housing style.”

Neighbors disagree. At the meeting in December, five people provided testimony (in addition to five more letters recently received by the LPC), all against the project. Solange Franklin Reed, who lives on the same block as the development, spoke on behalf of what she said were more than 30 other local residents. She said that they hadn’t had the time to adequately review the proposal, but that it would “alter the character and aesthetic of this historic block.”

She added, “It would be part of our family’s lives for years to come.”

This story first appeared on Brownstoner.